Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"We Want You to Make a Few Changes..."

Have you ever worried that a publisher might want some radical changes in your manuscript? Heard some horror stories? Patricia, better known as author p.m.terrell, has a wild story for you!

I reached for the familiar SASE in my mailbox, eager to see what new and unique way my book would be rejected. Two years had passed since completing my suspense/thriller and I’d racked up enough rejection slips to wallpaper my office.

I’d written the book while still performing contract work for a trucking company. I was younger then and I discovered my blond hair, blue eyes and tendency to look like an airhead helped me tremendously—they never suspected I was an FBI informant. The book was a dramatized version of the trucking kickback scheme, imaginatively titled Kickback.

As I approached the house, I read the letter. This publisher was not rejecting Kickback, as 3,857 had before them. They were accepting it—if I changed the storyline and made Sheila, the main character, a lesbian.

Now, I have to admit, I gave this some serious thought. After all, this could be my Big Break.

I mulled it over. The handsome man, Matt, would no longer be necessary. The suspicious coworker, Pam, would be Sheila’s love interest. The bedroom scenes with Matt would become… the bedroom scenes with Pam.

Now, I have to admit, I was in virgin territory.

So I did what any self-respecting, budding author would do. I rented a movie.



My Two Loves starred Lynn Redgrave as a lesbian falling in love with Mariette Hartley. Each time they were together, she looked at her co-worker with the same expression my husband uses when he’s grilling a steak. Hhmm, I thought. To write these sex scenes, I could just envision Sheila’s coworker as a pork chop.

I wondered what my father, an ultra-conservative, ex-FBI agent, would think of this. In my mind’s eye, I quickly realized I didn’t want to go there.

So I thought of my granddaughter, who was approaching puberty. What would she think, lying in bed at night, reading Grandma’s book, and stumbling onto lesbian sex?

I asked my husband what he thought about it. He was fine with it—as long as he could envision Halle Berry and Charlize Theron.

In the end, I wrote the publishers. In part, my letter read, “They say to write what you know. I don’t know anything about lesbian love. And at this stage in my life, I’m not inclined to do the research.”

p.m.terrell’s debut suspense/thriller, Kickback, was published in 2002. Since then, she’s become the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of 12 books, including 5 suspense/thrillers and 2 historical suspense/adventures. You can read more about her at her website and blog.

Can any of you top that one?

112 comments:

Jeffrey Beesler said...

At least you let that one stew a bit before you told them no.

mooderino said...

That was quite a change they wanted. Could have done the research on the interent like I do.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Surely if someone writes a book then it is your ideas, your characters, and you write it as you want others to read it.
What I can't understand is publishers wanting to change a characters' personality etc.
Maybe writing poetry is different but I wouldn't make THAT drastic change.

Have a good day.
Yvonne.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I couldn't have made the change either...

Laura Pauling said...

Pretty cool. Sometimes we just have to stick to our guns.

iZombie said...

that is a giant leap to change a character, not that there is nothing wrong for them to ask. i am glad she was able to stay on the path and defend herself and the character. i could not have changed it, though at this point in my life if they wanted to change me to a chicken who wrote the book... i would have to say "cluck, cluck".

Carol Fleisher said...

Kudos standing your ground and being true to you and your novel!

Liz P said...

What a great story! Way to go for staying true to your story, even if it meant losing the chance at publication. Fortunately, she ended up being very successful! :)

Thanks for sharing her story with us, Alex.

Huntress said...

Excellent response to the publisher!

I can't top it, but my present correspondence with an agent -- in a public forum no less -- is an ongoing saga.

Morgan said...

Sounds like she did the right thing- thought about it, decided it didn't need them and told them no. Great story! I'll have to keep it in mind if I'm ever in a similar situation.

oceangirl said...

what a witty story, i love patricia.

Laila Knight said...

Cool guest blogger. I don't have a problem with creating a lesbian romance interest, but doing that to my main character would wound me deeply. I think I would have also said "no". Way to hold on to your ideals. Great post, Alex.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Jeremy, just don't lay an egg!

She stuck to her gun all right!

GigglesandGuns said...

This would be hard to top.
No matter what anyone says I guess you can't learn everything from Google and Wiki-pedia:D

Suze said...

'In the end, I wrote the publishers. In part, my letter read, “They say to write what you know. I don’t know anything about lesbian love. And at this stage in my life, I’m not inclined to do the research.”'

Can I just say I loved the way you handled this?

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks, everybody, for all the great comments! I did consider doing some research on the Internet but had visions of it spiralling out of control and having someone show up on my doorstep. With my luck, it wouldn't have been Halle Berry but someone with whips and chains. And that would have broken two of my rules: it can't hurt, and if there's a fire, I have to be able to get out...

I also have a rule with my own writing: since I can't sit beside each reader and explain what I meant by each scene, the scenes would have to stand on their own. And for me, I've found that works better with a kickstand.

Rusty Webb said...

That's bizarre. I'm not sure how I would react in a similar situation. Good choice.

Arlee Bird said...

Funny story. I think there are some lines that we don't need to cross if they are not consistent with our values. But then again, it doesn't hurt to listen to and consider new ideas and possibilities.


Lee
Tossing It Out

Teresa aka Journaling Woman said...

Awwwesome, p.m.terrell! It's so important to stay true to your writing. It's more honest I think.

Alex, thanks for another great author story.

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, what a story. At least you did a bit of research before throwing the towel at them. I could never write a love scene imagining a lover as a pork chop, but, I'm not a fan of meat.

I think I would have done the same thing. And it seemed to work out for you.

Sarah McCabe said...

Good for you! If only all writers had the guts to stick to their guns instead of becoming slaves to big publishers just to get their books in print.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Hah! Zing!

She Writes said...

I didn't even know you could decline!

Karen Walker said...

This is a wonderful story. And no, Alex, can't top this one. Thanks, both of you.
Karen

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Suzette, isn't that funny?

Clarissa, I couldn't either.

Thanks again, Patrcia.

Old Kitty said...

Wow!! I'd probably research with aplomb but then I am a hedonist in need of cold showers several times a day. Ahem.

LOL!! Oh but seriously, great story!! Thanks for sharing Cap'n Alex and p.m terrell. Take care
x

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Big change! Congratulations on being so easy to work with! That will serve you well. :)

Karen S. Elliott said...

Like making Scarlet a nice girl in the beginning of GWTW? Nope, wouldn't do it.

p.m.terrell said...

Alex, I really appreciate you having me as your guest blogger today. And I truly appreciate all the comments from your fabulous readers. I'm relieved no one suggested I would have been better off to have changed the story.

I always figured this situation was so bizarre, it guaranteed I would land on Oprah someday just so I could tell it. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed.

L.G.Smith said...

That's a great story. Nope, can't top that. I hope I never can, either. :P

Jamie Burch said...

Wow! That would have been a drastic change. Thanks for sharing this story, Patricia!

Patricia Lynne said...

That is a big change. Did they ever say why they thought it would work better that way?

Carol Kilgore said...

This is one of the best writer stories I've ever heard. Thanks for sharing.

Christopher Hudson said...

The ethics of the publisher's request aside, even little changes to a novel create huge headaches ... when you start unstringing the pearls the next thing you know they're rolling all over the floor and you're looking under the couch and everywhere for them. Nope, I wouldn't have done it either ... well, not unless they offered me enough money.

Bossy Betty said...

I can see why you would be tempted! Loved your reply!

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Hilarious - couldnt' help laughing at the bit ' I did what any sel-respecting author would do...'

I would have done the same thing as P.M. Great post

p.m.terrell said...

Patricia Lynne, they never did say why they thought the plot would be better with the change. I wondered if I had stumbled onto a publisher who specialized in gay/lesbian books, and it hadn't been noted as such in Writer's Market.

Christopher, good point about the money. I have to admit, I did consider writing it under a pen name but was afraid I'd be found out. With my luck, it would have been on the news the night before I spoke at a Christian conference.

Which reminds me... Next week, my blog at www.pmterrell.blogspot.com will be about the publicist who wanted me to hide my face forever!

Raising Marshmallows said...

Good for her. After all of those rejections she didn't cave.

Charles Gramlich said...

Love your comment in the letter about the "research." I did change a storyline for a story to feature a gay character for a magazine once, and it sold, but was never published since that mag folded. The relationship was really only implied, though, so no research involved. I wrote the story with a 'female' love interest, then changed the name to a male one and made some other cosmetic changes.

Matthew MacNish said...

Nope. Can't top it. Because that story is effing awesome. Good for you, P.M.!

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

That agent/publisher had a quota to fill for one of their little square boxes. Glad you stood your ground and that's not a statement about lesbian anything. It's only a statement on what you as a writer knew what was best for your book.

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks for the additional comments, and for being so wonderfully supportive! I have to admit while I was still searching for a publisher, I wondered if I'd let opportunity slip through my fingers. But I've never been inclined to sell my soul to the devil... And that isn't a statement about gays and lesbians, only about staying true to myself.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Kitty, you always make me laugh!

Christopher, another big reason I couldn't do it - think of the changes!

And Patricia, that's the best we can do - stay true to ourselves.

Simon Kewin said...

Great story. "I’m not inclined to do the research" made me laugh!

Melissa Bradley said...

That certainly is a leap. I'm glad you stuck to your guns. It would have been different if she had been bi to start with and the publisher just wanted to focus on the female aspect of her love life, but to go in a complete opposite direction? Sheesh...

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great story and great response to the editors. None of my editor request stories even approach this one.

p.m.terrell said...

Simon, glad I could make you laugh today! I'm sure my expression as I read the publisher's letter was priceless. I felt like I was in an episode of "Friends" - Joey would have loved it!

Rosalind Adam said...

Good for you! It must have been so tempting to accept and kowtow to their demands. And then you had the book published your way. I hope you sent them a copy.

The Happy Whisk said...

Good for her. That's what she needed and she stuck to her guns. Good deal.

Hart Johnson said...

So interesting. I think you were probably very wise, not because I see anything wrong with a gay love story in a book, but more because getting it WRONG could easily come across as disrespectful, so you're right... what you know is important there.

M Pax said...

Wow. That would make a lot of changes to a ms. My husband would be all for such a change, too.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi,

Been there, done that: told a publisher this year to go run and jump. No, I would not change a chunk of the book, because if I did I might as well not have written the darn thing in the first place. It's since been contracted by another publisher: as was, as is! :o

best
F

Raquel Byrnes said...

What a great post. I wondered about what authors did when faced with MAJOR changes to their stories. I haven't had to deal with that...yet. :)
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Melissa, it would be quite a change.

Rosalind, that's funny!

Mary, that's because our fantasies are usually better than reality as far as that stuff goes.

Francine, good for you!

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks for all the additional comments, folks! You made some great points. I hadn't thought about how it might come across if I got things wrong... But I felt the "passion" wouldn't convey since I sure wouldn't feel it myself. And if I can't feel it, I can't get the reader to feel it, either.

It also occurred to me that controversy sells. But if that's what I became known for, I'd decided I'd rather not be known!

Laura said...

Fantastic story and a brave decision! (Off to buy the book now:))
Lx

Tara said...

This is fabulous! What a great response, Patricia.

Caledonia Lass said...

Nice! I think I would have responded that way as well. Not into doing the research needed for this task, but thanks for asking!
Great post!

Copyboy said...

That is pretty amazing! Sometimes I wonder how the powers that be decide on these odd changes. Glad the book is doing amazing!

Bryce Daniels said...

Great guest post, Alex!

Thanks so much for this, Patricia.
I had to smile for two reasons. One, your fresh and witty writing, and two, the way you stood up for your work.

Kudos, ma'am.

Nancy Thompson said...

Nice to know Patricia stuck to her guns and got published anyway!

I worry (if I ever get to that part where a publisher is interested) that a publisher, or the agent before that, would ask me to take a particular scene out of my book, or somehow tone it down as it portrays a violent rape. But I could never do that, even tempted by publication, because that scene is the heart of the story, what drives the book, and if they find that offensive, then they shouldn't be interested in publishing it in the first place.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Oh my God, Trish, I am dying! LOL I can hear your husband saying that, too. Craig would probably agree.
I need to let him read this! He'll want details next time we see you, I'm sure.

Cheeseboy said...

Haha! That is such a friggen funny story! Glad she could write here today.

Monti said...

What a change and what a funny and interesting story. Love the way you told it! Thanks for sharing!

Monti
NotesAlongTheWay

p.m.terrell said...

Thank you everybody! I truly appreciate all your supportive comments - more than you know! And many, many thanks to everyone who said they would buy the book. As you read it, you'll know (as Paul Harvey used to say) the REST of the story.

And Diane, if you really want to hear more, ask Don about his dream that night! He woke up the next morning and said, "Wow, I dreamed Halle Berry was on one side of me and Charlize Theron was on the other side." I rolled over and answered, "Yeah; you were dreamin'."

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it! When I'm reading it, it's going to be hard not to picture pork chops and folks in very different roles! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Nancy, only you understand the heart of your story. Stick with it no matter what.

Cheeseboy, knew you'd like it!

Patricia, tell Don I want his dream...

Lynda R Young said...

hahaha so funny! The book sounds great too :)

RaShelle said...

I love what you said about not being "inclined to do the research". Honest and witty. Perfect. Thanks for sharing your stroy. =D

And thanks for hosting, Alex!

Amy said...

Ha! That is great what you responded with to the publishers.

Great post! :)

Lydia K said...

Good for you for keeping an open mind, and then doing what your heart said was right.

Kimberly said...

What a great story. LOL about your husband's thoughts. That cracked me up because mine probably would have said something similar.

Thanks Alex!

Aleta said...

OMG, I LOVE the response to the publisher! Excellent!

p.m.terrell said...

Wow, Alex, can I adopt all your peeps? You are absolutely right - Captain Ninja Alex's Army DOES rock! I love you guys! You give me the inspiration and motivation to keep going. Glad you all enjoyed the blog!

And Alex, I bet EVERY man wants my husband's dream! LOL! To this day, every time we see Halle Berry on screen, I turn to my husband and say, "You know she wants you."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Patricia, thanks again, and just let your husband dream!

Thanks, guys. This Ninja Army does rock!

Ciara said...

When I first started writing I thought I could change anything. Now, I realize that is not the case.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great story, Patricia! I love your response to the publishers. :D

Stephen Tremp said...

Huhn?!?!?! What was that about Charlize Theron and Halle Berry?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Stephen, I'm afraid you were only dreaming.

Andrew said...

As someone who often PRETENDS to be a lesbian when hanging out in adult chat rooms, I must say that I could have helped you with that revision....
I TOTALLY understand lesbians!

Here's the key to them: they're all incredibly hot, young, nymphomaniacs who like to engage in sex chat with random people -- without exception. It's true!!!

Kidding, kidding (I mean, on everything I just wrote)....

You made the admirable -- and probably right -- decision.

Abby Minard said...

Wow, Patricia! Thanks for writing about this. I never thought they'd ask for that dramatic of a change. Glad you stuck to your guns. I can envision myself changing some minor things and I'm preparing myself to be flexible. But I think what that publisher wanted you to do was too far. We have to draw the line somewhere or else it really would look like we don't know what we're talking about- because we really wouldn't!

alexia said...

What a great story! I think that is definitely the most interesting request I've heard of!

Anne R. Allen said...

I had the same thing happen to me in reverse. I wrote a romantic comedy where the heroine was in love with a gay man. An agent said she loved the voice, but she didn't know any market for fag-hag lit (she didn't call it that--she was more polite) She asked me to change his orientation so we could have the traditional happy-ever-after wedding.

It defeated the whole point of the book, so I gave her a quick "no." She hung up in a snit. But I've always wondered what would have happened if I'd done what she asked.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Though we might have to start worrying about you, Andrew!

p.m.terrell said...

Anne, that is a fascinating story! I think you made the right decision. Too many times, I've seen authors change their stories so they were no longer their own and they regretted it later.

Thanks, everyone, for being so supportive! Thanks especially to Alex for letting me tell this story here. It's the first time I've ever told anyone outside of my family about it!

Angela Felsted said...

WOW. Um . . . just wow! I can't even imagine that. I'm so glad she didn't give up even though she told them no.

Christa said...

Wow, I'm glad you stuck to your guns. I don't know what I would do in that case. I think I would have gone for it if it plussed the story, but I guess I'm more comfortable writing lesbian sex into a WIP because I read so much romance in my internship. But it probably wouldn't happen to me because I write YA:)

Instinct is everything in this business.

Talli Roland said...

Wow! That is quite the big change to make to a character! Well done for sticking to her guns and going with what she felt was right.

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks, everybody, for agreeing that I should have stuck to my guns. I did, and I didn't give up. And as a result, I don't have a book out there that I would have thought questionable (for me) ... Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

In other words, you heard it here first everyone!

Christa, never say never.

Thanks again, Patricia!

Jennie Bailey said...

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stick to your guns! What a revision!!! I can't imagine ever topping that one. And I hope I would have had the courage to stand my ground.

Sangu said...

Ahaha that's brilliant! I love that attitude!

I think it's inevitable that you're going to be asked to make a few changes to your plot and/or characters. I worked out pretty early that the most important thing to me was keeping my core characters intact - not changing who they were, how they develop, or how they end up - and that I was willing to rework plot threads several times as long as the heart of my story and characters still felt real to me.

I don't think I've ever been asked to change a character's sexuality! Or anything quite so fundamental to them. I'm pretty sure my answer would be a resounding 'no'. Plot I'm happy to work with. But my characters are who they are and I can't change them to suit anybody - even me.

cherie said...

W.O.W. Kudos to you, P.M. for sticking to your ms and believing in it. What an interesting story!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! That's definitely an unexpected request for change, and such a major part of a character.
Loved the letter response - "not inclined to do the research." Also, loved to see that she has been successful since then.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sangu, my answer would also be a no!

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Hmmm, I do have a book similar to that waiting to be written. I don't want to make waves, but I can't turn down my muse. I wonder how much controversy it will stir? Among straight and non...

Thanks for laughs and smiles, Alex! :)


♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥
Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!
Pre-order your copy now!

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks everybody, for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment! I love it that not a single person responded that I was an idiot for passing up that opportunity. :)

So, Elizabeth, I'm curious about this similar book you said you need to write? I don't have anything against gay or lesbian themes. I just didn't feel that I was the right one to write it!

Glad everybody liked my story. I've had some tough editors since then but any suggestions they've made have paled in comparison to this one.

Ann Best said...

I can't top this one, Alex. Like Patricia, I would have made the same decision. And this most interesting post has made me want to read Kickback!
Ann Best, Memoir Author

The Golden Eagle said...

Wow. That's one major change they asked for. Good for you for publishing anyway!

Saumya said...

How incredible! A great story about sticking with what you think is best for your work.

Alex, I just bought your book!! It's being shipping to my parents house since I'm in a million different locations over the next couple of weeks. I'm so excited to read it :)

Sylvia Ney said...

Nearly 4,000 rejections on the same manuscript? WOW - I don't feel so bad now. I'm no where near that number - YET. ;-)

p.m.terrell said...

LOL Sylvia, I actually lost track of how many rejections the book received. I remember getting another rejection telling me the book was not publishable - when it was in its third printing. It took that long for the publisher to respond.

The reason she said it wasn't publishable was I had Sheila creating a website to upload proof of the trucking kickback scheme - naming names. And she said a "person" can't create a website; you needed a "corporation" to do that!

You just gotta love it...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Elizabeth, I am here for your amusement!

Ann, you should check it out.

Saumya, thank you! I am honored.

Patricia, that whole thing about who can create a website is nonsense!

Summer Ross said...

I cannot top that! Holy cow! Great post and I giggled.

Regina said...

I loved her response though that was priceless. I would imagine that things would happen like that but wow.

p.m.terrell said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Yes, Alex, when I read the comment about the website, it was a surreal moment!

Summer, glad I made you giggle!

And Regina, glad you liked my response!

Thanks for stopping by!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Alex I have a problem regarding my book I had published 3 years ago would you be able to help?

Yvonne.

Helen Ginger said...

That was funny. At least now it is. At the time, it was probably a difficult decision - to give up a possible contract. With all the success you've had, I'm sure you're happy with your decision.

Bob Sanchez said...

That's probably an untoppable story, p.m. And yes, research is important, but...

Mary Emma Allen said...

Pleased you stuck with your convictions, Patricia.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Helen, I'm sure she is happy now.

Bob, I couldn't do it!

p.m.terrell said...

Had to laugh at your comment, Alex! But could you do it if you pictured Halle Berry and Charlize Theron? I'll never look at them the same way again...

Yes, I am satisfied with my decision. But until my books started getting published and sold, I have to admit, I wondered if I'd made the right decision or if I'd let opportunity slip through my fingers.

It just never occurred to me that when my ship came in, it could be gay!